Senate Democrats host own redistricting hearings

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Senate Democrats are making one last effort to have an influence on Indiana’s Republican-controlled redistricting process by hosting their own additional public hearings around the state this week and next.

The sole formal legislative committee hearing on the GOP’s proposed Senate maps will be 9 a.m. Monday at the Statehouse before the Senate Committee on Elections.

Additional public hearings hosted by Senate Democrats will be in the traditional Democrat-strongholds of Gary, South Bend and Bloomington. The first was held Thursday evening in Gary. The remaining two will be:

  • Friday, Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. UAW Local 5, 1426 S. Main St.,  South Bend.
  • Monday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. Monroe County Public Library, 303 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington.

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said in a statement that Republicans continue to lack transparency on the redistricting process by not giving enough time and access for the public to comment on the map drafts.

Republicans released their Senate maps on Tuesday. Maps for all of the state’s legislative and congressional districts now await action in the Senate after the full House approved them on Thursday.

Republicans have defended the maps, saying they address public concerns, account for population shifts and keep districts compact. But Democrats say the maps give the GOP an unfair advantage.

“I appreciate that the Senate will have more time to analyze maps before the public hearing next Monday, but that doesn’t change the fact that this process has been closed-off and restrictive of Hoosier engagement from the start,” Taylor said.  “Hoosiers wanted more time and more meetings where they could actually have their questions and concerns answered. Instead the committee meetings last week and the Senate one next week were scheduled during hours when people work and attend class.”

Republicans control the redistricting process by virtue of their supermajorities in the House and Senate. They hold a 71-29 majority in the House and a 39-11 advantage in the Senate.

Republican members of the Senate Committee on Elections were invited to attend the Democrats’ hearings this week, Taylor said.

Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, sponsor of the redistricting legislation, said in a written statement to IBJ that he will not be attending because he is “preparing for our 10th public bipartisan meeting on Monday.”

A Republican-led redistricting listening tour was held at public sites around the state before the maps were drafted.

Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, chairman of the elections committee, did not respond to phone calls from IBJ.

Republicans have faced criticism for the quick timeline to give final approval to the maps by Oct. 1. House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, defended the pace, saying census delays meant state officials didn’t receive data needed to craft the maps until last month, and local precincts need the maps to be completed to prepare for the upcoming election.

Democrats and some citizen groups also criticized the swift addition of Senate maps to the House redistricting bill,  without holding a House committee hearing on the proposed state Senate districts. Critics suggested the maneuver was an effort to avoid changes and public dialogue.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said the move was not about stopping potential alterations and noted that the Senate will consider public input next week. He added this was how the legislation had been drafted in past redistricting years.

Senate Democrats’ call for more public input follow multiple failed efforts by House Democrats to make changes to the maps this week. The maps passed out of the House 67-31  Thursday with few changes.

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